Jewish emergency response service expands into ambulance transport

November 1, 2013

WBEZ/Odette Yousef
Hatzalah Chicago has purchased two ambulances with donor money. Its volunteer staff are trained to respond to low-level medical emergencies.

A medical emergency response service for Orthodox Jews is expanding into ambulance transport.

Hatzalah Chicago is about two years old, and so far has relied on its team of trained volunteers to use their own personal cars to respond to low-level medical emergencies. But now, using donations, the service has purchased two ambulances and it soft-launched the ambulance response service last weekend.

Simcha Frank, a co-founder of Hatzalah Chicago, was able to respond to WBEZ questions by text message. He said since Hatzalah Chicago started its work, its volunteers saw many cases where patients declined to call 911 for ambulances because they were afraid they would not be taken to the hospitals where their doctors and personal files were.

“The patients were either refusing to go to hospital with local EMS,” wrote Frank, “And some didn’t even call EMS because of that.”

Hatzalah primarily serves people in Skokie, Lincolnwood and Chicago’s far North Side.

Frank said Hatzalah Chicago will take patients to the hospitals they specify, and he anticipates that will mostly be hospitals in the North Shore.

“And that improves anxiety and sometimes patient outcomes,” he wrote.

Hatzalah has about 40 trained emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, and 20 dispatchers. Frank hopes about a dozen of the EMTs will go through advanced training to become paramedics to staff the ambulances.

Currently, the vehicles, which cost about $150,000 each, are equipped to transport patients that are in stable condition. Frank hopes in about a year some of his volunteers will receive certification in advanced life support to provide transport for more critical cases.

John J. Stroger Jr. Hospital in Cook County is the service’s resource hospital, providing medical direction. According to Frank, Hatzalah service received approval from the Illinois Department of Public Health in mid-October.

Many other major U.S. cities, especially New York City, already have extensive Hatzalah emergency response services. 

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her at @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.